Is Microsoft more ethical than Apple or Google?

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer speaks to attendees at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, February 15, 2010.

Ethisphere has chosen its list of the 2011 Most Ethical Companies. Microsoft, which has a somewhat seedy reputation steaming from its European and U.S. antitrust cases, made the list of 110 companies. Many other successful tech companies -- Apple, Facebook and Google among them -- are absent. Of course, who would really expect Facebook to be regarded as ethical?

Microsoft joins the 36 companies new to Ethisphere's list. I'm not so surprised to see Microsoft on the list so much as not seeing it sooner -- at least since 2008 (that's how far back I looked). The company really cleaned up its corporate behavior during the new millennium and even has taken a leadership role among tech companies. It's what I heard Chairman Bill Gates pledge Microsoft would do when he testified in court in Spring 2002. I actually regard Microsoft to be a highly ethical company on many fronts. Then there is the shadow of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations' philanthropic work.

During 2010, Microsoft also did much to restore its brand and image (well, except with Wall Street). Strong advertising for Bing, Internet Explorer, Windows Live and Windows 7 certainly helped. Surely positive reception to Office and Windows 7 contributed. Microsoft also kept its ethical and corporate responsibility profile visible through the "On the Issues" blog. Microsoft also operates from a strong code of business ethics, which is true of Google I should add.

Ethisphere used four broad criteria in evaluating companies: Ethics and compliance (30 percent); reputation, leadership and innovation (30 percent); governance (15 percent); corporate citizenship and responsibility (25 percent).

Google is among the 26 companies that fell off the ethic's list. So much for Google's promise to make money without doing evil, eh? Google made the list in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Ethisphere even profiled Google in 2008, praising it for "conducting business responsibly and reducing our impact on the environment. The most prominent example is Google.org, the company's philanthropic arm, which is committed to using the power of information and technology to address some of the world's most challenging problems: Climate change, poverty, disasters and disease." Ethisphere also called out Google's work with Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) "and academics to help develop a global code of conduct for how to deal with governments that suppress free expression and privacy." Perhaps Google will make the 2012 list, given some of the philanthropic work, like the people finder, to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Apple is simply a consistent no show on Ethisphere's list, which I find kind of funny. Based on the brand's popularity, I expect many people would regard Apple as being a highly ethical company. But Apple also is the big keeper of secrets, when it comes to product development, and that has to affect its operational behavior at many levels. Some Mac fans will whack me in comments for writing anything that even whiffs of negativity. They should be asking: If Apple is so great, why doesn't it make the annual ethics list? Consistently?

By the way, there are reasons why in my May 2010 post "Which is eviler? Apple, Facebook or Google?" Microsoft isn't in the headline. Or otherwise placed in the "evil" camp in the text: My longstanding opinion that the company now operates from a high standard of ethics, accountability and generosity.

Other companies making the ethics list include: Adobe, American Express, eBay, Gap, General Electric, General Mills, Starbucks, Swiss Re, Target, Thompson Reuters, Whole Food Market and Xerox.

From reading this post, you know what I think about Microsoft and ethical behavior. What about you? Do you regard Microsoft to be an ethical company? What about Apple, Facebook, Google or some other company that didn't make the list? Please respond in comments, or email joewilcox at gmail dot com.

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